The Arabic term ‘Mawlid’ is used to refer to the birthday of someone important. Sufi’s use it for their Sheikhs’ birthdays, and it’s most common use is for the birthday of the prophet: al-Mawlid an-Nabawi.
The sunnis celebrate it on the 12th of Rabi’ al-awwal, while the Shiites celebrate it on the 17th, which also happens to coincide with the birth of their 6th Imam (Jafar As-Sadiq – so it’s sort of a double celebration).
However, according to the almanac, his birthday was on the 9th of Rabi al-awwal. And, until not that long ago, his birthday was called “Bara Wafat” by some, which means “Day of Death”. This is because it’s a celebration of what is commonly held to be the day of his death. If you want to know more about the whole timing of the birthday (and how utterly unimportant it was in Arab culture at the time, and to the prophet’s companions) read this fantastic article on the topic. Or skim through it, like I did.
At the end of the 11th Century AD (so about the 400 years after the death of the prophet), in Egypt, the ruling Fatimid dynasty (who were Shiite, fyi) started to observe 4 Mawlid celebrations throughout the year. They were for:
1) The Prophet (pbuh)
2) Fatimah (AS)
3) Ali (AS)
4) The Ruling Khalif
Essentially, the Khalif decreed his birthday to be a special holiday, and he knew that the only way he was gonna get away with it was to include Allah’s messenger and – because he was Shiite – Ahl al-bayt (the prophet’s family).
The celebration itself consisted of a grand procession of the courtiers during the day, with three khutbahs preached at the end in front of the khalifah. It is part of Islamic tradition to have two khutbahs on days of celebration (the two Eids and Jumuah), so they’re instituting three goes above and beyond the sunnah. It’s like “woah!”
The first recorded Sunni festival was at the beginning of the 13th Century in Iraq. People travelled to attend two months in advance, with the partying starting a month before. And by ‘partying’ I mean partying: they had jugglers, musicians, entertainers, etc all out on the streets of the city. Then the evening before there was a torchlight procession which passed through the town and on the actual day there was a Khutbah and a super-lavish feast. Super-lavish, I tell ya. Thousands of sheep, oxen, etc were slaughtered for dinner. I bet they had Shawarma back then…
Anyways, the tradition spread across the Muslim world mainly because of Sufis, who liked to celebrate the birthdays of their Sheikhs too, as this was in their heyday.
It is Haram for several reasons:
1) It isn’t from the sunnah, nor from the Salaf.
Allah’s messenger (pbuh) said:
“Stick to my sunnah and the sunnah of my rightly guided Khalifs, cling to it firmly with your molar teeth. Beware of newly invented matters, for every new matter is an innovation and every innovation is misleading.
[Ahmad 4/126 & Tirmidhi No 2676]
So basically, doing something new is essentially ignoring and disbelieving in Allah’s statement:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي
… This day, I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My Favour upon you …
Also, just because you have a good intention about something doesn’t make it halal. Trust me, I could have a lot of great intentions about eating a haram Big Mac, but it still wouldn’t be Halal.
2) It is an imitation of Christmas.
In the early days it was celebrated in the same way that Christians celebrated Christmas – a sermon and a feast. Why is this wrong? Because the Messenger (pbuh) said:
“Be different from the Mushrikeen (those who associate partners with Allah)”.
He also said:
“Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them.
[Ahmad 2/05 & Abu Dawud 4/314]
3) It’s exaggerating in honouring the prophet.
He (pbuh) said:
“Do not exaggerate (i.e. in praise and honour) in me, as the Christians exaggerated about the son of Maryam. I am only a slave, so say ‘the slave and messenger of Allah’.
[Bukhari 4/142, no 3445]
He also said:
“Beware of exaggeration for those before were destroyed due to exaggeration.”
[Nasa’ee no 2863]
4) It opens the doors to other innovations.
Such as mixing, celebrating other innovative days, Sufism, etc.
Regarding Omar Ibn Al-Khattab’s statement “What a good bidah this is!”
Ibn Taymiyyah explained it by saying that the word ‘Bidah’ has two meanings:
1) Linguistic: which is anything new or original. So you could say “Ooh! The design of that skirt is a beautiful Bidah.”
2) Technical (i.e. in the Shariah): which means anything for which there is no basis in the Shariah. So any new laws, rules, prayers, etc.
Regarding the following Hadith:
Abu Qatadah Al-Ansari narrated, ‘There came a man to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and said: “Oh Messenger of Allah, why do you fast on Mondays?” He (pbuh) replied, “That is the day on which I was born and the day on which I was entrusted with the Mission or when I was first given Revelation.”
Some people use this hadith as an argument for the celebration of al-Mawlid an-Nabawi, which is amusing given that it’s actually an argument against it, because:
- Fasting on Mondays is an act that has been allowed and encouraged by the Messenger (pbuh) on a weekly basis. If a blowout celebration once a year were permissible and good, don’t you think he’d have been the first to do it? Who knew more about what’s good in terms of remembering Allah’s messenger: you or him?
- His (pbuh) ‘celebration’ (if that’s what you want to call it – but really? What’s so fun about NOT eating? Doh!) involves worship – one of the most beloved acts of worship before Allah that is done only for His Sake alone, and is, in fact, a form of worship that we are expressly forbidden from performing on days of great celebration (i.e. the two Eids, and – not quite forbidden, but almost – on Fridays). So what this means is that what this hadith is referring to is not a celebration, but rather a symbol of gratitude to Allah that He created the Messenger (pbuh) and sent His Revelation.
- If these people don’t fast on Mondays (and let’s be real – very few do), then they have no claim of following the Messenger’s way or of honouring him especially, as Allah Ta’la said:
أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِي هُوَ أَدْنَىٰ بِالَّذِي هُوَ خَيْرٌ
… Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? …
And as a final point, I’ll leave with Albani’s words on this:
“So, where are the scholars who defend Mawlid, why don’t they enlighten the people that fasting on Monday is the legislated celebration of Mawlid (i.e., birthday of Allah’s Messenger)? And why don’t they encourage the people to it instead of defending the unlegislated celebration?”
So, to summarise:
- Mawlid – not really the Prophet’s bday.
- Shiites first came up with it, about 400 years after the Prophet (pbuh) died. It took another 200 years for the Sunnis to start.
- It’s not allowed.
- If you really want to show your love for the prophet and gratitude to Allah for creating him and sending the revelation, fast Mondays.